How to throw the best parties, part 1


Or how to entertain at home and make it look effortless.

I’ve been throwing parties since I was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman at art school. Back then, it consisted of a couple 24s of the cheapest beer I could find, a bottle of vodka and some insanely-sweet liqueurs and potent mix of classmates and club-kids. Nudity was a foregone conclusion and the three bedrooms in the house were valuable territories with no-man’s land being the long, narrow hallway.

As always, things change, people grow up (somewhat), you have more money to throw around and your tastes become simultaneously more refined and debauched.

Some things, however, remain the same. Booze + music + crowd = good time. Where it gets interesting is the infinite amount of variables that you can play around with.

Before I wrote this, I Googled for how-to’s and guides and one thing was glaringly evident: the people who throw great parties sure as hell aren’t writing about it. Most of what I found was either incredibly straight or stupid and nearly all of it was useless.

Nobody needs to know how to throw your average get-together or function. A little food and drink and background music will keep squarely within the realm of mostly-forgettable events that serve as social grease for lots of folks.

If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t want that.

While you’re not a frat boy, you haven’t quite given up on life yet. You want your guests to enjoy themselves and you want to have fun.  You don’t want to trash your house (after all, you’ve spent some time and money to get it looking nice like that) and even though you had the foresight to get the next day off from work, you probably want to be in bed by the time the sun comes up. Maybe you even want to make some money.

585 GRRD is here to help.

We started with The Awkward Adolescent Party last year which was exactly what it sounds like. In January, we had Bramazon, which was a birthday for a close friend, Bram. The theme was “excess” so naturally we got dressed up, had a full bar and did all we could to make sure the night lived up to its tag.

Last weekend, we threw Smashed for Timbits, another birthday but for my fellow 585 GRRDer, Ash. The theme (very loosely applied) was “90’s hip hop” and we scaled back the bar to a couple of kegs and Purple Drink which is simply vodka and Kool-Aid. This one featured more of a BYOB element but the bar was empty by about ten in the morning.

By the end of this article, you’re going to be able to see how you can throw the best jam ever (hopefully without getting kicked out of your pad or getting arrested).


There are two types of bars; the open bar and the cash bar.

If you have money, you should be paying for the booze. It’s your night and you invited your friends; man up and be a proper host. If coin is tight, you can always insist everyone BYOB but be prepared for mooches (usually friends of friends) who will clean everyone out.

What kind of booze should you buy? The theme may dictate what you get but not necessarily. One rule I like to hold by is have a couple bottles of the nice stuff on hand (say Cazadores tequila and some Bulleit bourbon) for my room and a basic rail downstairs for the masses. Remember, if you’re giving it away, always pour the first drink for your guests; any subsequent drinks are up to them.

One great way to save on the costs of putting together a comprehensive rail is creating a custom cocktail for your party. This can either be planned or impromptu. The second day of Smashed to Timbits (yes, you read that correctly; its subsequent name may have had something to do with that), I was serving something I cobbled together from some leftovers in the kitchen.


1 oz sweet vermouth

1 oz Crème de cassis

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

3 tablespoons assorted berries

1 pinch ground black pepper

3 oz ginger beer

Using a mortar and pestle, lightly coat the bowl with a dusting of ground, black pepper and throw the berries (thaw them if they’re frozen) in there. Crush the berries into the pepper and then spoon a generous portion into a rocks glass filled with ice. Pour in the vermouth, the cassis and top up with ginger beer. Add the bitters and serve.

I would normally have a photograph of some sort to show you but none of us were in any condition to take one and the name does it justice. Not a pretty cocktail but a tasty, spicy one.

A good rule of thumb is to take two complimentary flavors and then toss in something to give it a little complexity. Bubbles will nearly always dilute sweetness and a little citrus will cut right through it. Experiment and have fun, especially if the night is wrapping up.

You can’t go wrong with beer and you will probably run out of it. If you have more than 30 people coming, get yourself at least four cases of beer. Get a lager and an ale and don’t settle for the cheap stuff. Alternatively, get at least two cases of good beer and two of the decent kind.

If you’re considering having a cash bar, beer (whether in a can or bottle) is expensive. A 24 of Mill St. Stock Ale will cost you about $42 at The Beer Store. That’s costing you nearly $1.75 a beer so if you’re selling it, you need to charge at least $3 to make it worthwhile. A discount brand like Brave will run you $30 for a 24 which isn’t bad and by the sixth bottle, no one will really care about quality anyway.

Kegs are an incredibly good deal if you can arrange the transportation and can set ‘em up right. A 50L keg from Mill St. goes for $180 (not including the deposit) and contains the equivalent of 149 bottles of beer. With each beer costing you $1.20, you have way more flexibility when it comes to deciding what kind of bar you want to set-up.

Perhaps the best part of a keg is that you can do away with the bartender altogether and sell party-goers an all-you-can-drink cup. The price can be scaled from “covering your costs” to “making some coin” depending on the circumstances and your financial need.

The most important thing to remember with a keg is that you should probably call ahead and make sure whichever brewery you’re dealing with has some to spare. This is even more important if you’re looking for a specific beer. You  should also give it at least a couple of hours to settle so it’s not too foamy when you tap it. If you’re grabbing anything heavier than a 30L keg, you’re probably going to need some help carrying it too.

(The following information will only be of use to you if you live in Toronto but check with your local brewery for information pertinent to your region.)

Steam Whistle charges $78.25 (+ $20 deposit) for a 20L,  $112.95 for 30L and $179.25 for 50L (both $50 deposits). They even deliver throughout the GTA but will tack on a $45 fee. To sweeten the deal they’ll throw in pick-up, a 12kg bag of ice, biodegradable cups, and draft equipment including a tap handle.

Mill Street offers 30L for about $105 and 50L for about $170 (with both having $50 deposits). Last time I went, they were out of hand-pumps which necessitated a ride out to the Bathurst/Dupont Beer Store. You can rent a hand-pump there for $65 ($50 deposit + cleaning fee) and they also have an interesting selection of domestic and foreign brand kegs. It’s pricier (30L of Maudite costs $209.75 and the same of Delirium Tremens costs a whopping $272.85!) but if you want something really tasty, you can’t go wrong. Amsterdam also offers both 30L and 50L kegs at $111 and $179 (+ $50 deposit), respectively.

If you are going to have a basic bar and you don’t want people just helping themselves, you’re going to be manning it all night long unless you get yourself a bartender. Be prepared to pay them and don’t hire your friends unless you both feel comfortable with you being in charge. Offer them at least $100 and free drinks to boot.

Best of all, this frees you up to sell tickets, be the consummate host and have a good time. A good benchmark price for drink tickets is $5 each or 5 for $20. Any more and you should really be throwing this party at a proper venue.

Even if you’re charging, BYOB is a great idea for friends. A terrific way to frame this is by offering to hold all of the booze your friends bring at the bar. That way, they don’t have to bother with mix (and they can switch it up if they like), they get a consistent drink and they know no one’s going to touch it except the bartender.

Within reason, it’s difficult to overestimate how much alcohol you will need. A good bar is vital and running out can stop your shindig dead in its tracks.

Next week, I’m going to talk about the crowd you want to attract, how to promote and all the other little things that will make or break your event.

To the drunk guy at Hoops last night…


I thought you should know why I suddenly split when you turned to talk with the guy on the other side of you. Yes, you were being loud and offensive which was why I gave you the cold shoulder outside of the washroom but I can chalk that one up to a simple misunderstanding.

Following me to the bar and trying to make amends by buying me a shot was a nice gesture but you fucked it up by sticking around afterwards and trying to be my new best friend. Newsflash: we’re not “relating” and while your proposal that we get “shit-faced” and sullenly mull over our collective sorrows is very Bukowski of you, I’m going to have to decline.

It’s not only that. Your repeated attempts to get the other denizens of the bar to cease with their celebrations of Canada’s triumph in Olympic hockey by screaming, “Shut the fuck up!” made me feel less like I was trying to enjoy a well-deserved pint at my local and more like I was baby-sitting a war vet with the emotional development of a fourteen year-old and PTSD to boot. Trying to throw a balled-up napkin at them was not such a hot idea but at least I was able to stop you. I might have had less success if you’d gone for a pint glass instead.

The reason we got along so well is because I’m a bartender and one of the more tiresome facets of my job is keeping idiots like you in check. I’m pretty good at it too but that doesn’t mean we have anything in common. The fact you occupied the seat next to me for over fifteen minutes when you don’t know me paints you squarely as a friendless dick who comes close to realizing the sad truth on the drunken, emotional rollercoaster that is likely a typical night for you.

I’d wish you the best of luck in finding other angry, young men to play with but I don’t think it’s in society’s best interests for you guys to congregate. For every Black Panther, there’s an Al Qaeda.

Just sayin’.

(Re-posted from Craigslist. I couldn’t resist.)